For many who were outraged by the Trump administration’s abusive policies on immigration, the election of Joe Biden caused a sigh of relief. Biden has promised a more humane approach to immigration, and has so far fulfilled pledges to reverse many of Trump’s most destructive immigration policies, including family separation, the Muslim Travel Ban, and the public charge rule. However, even with these changes, it’s clear that the U.S. still has a long way to go before even beginning to approach a humane and sensible immigration policy.
Stepping back from original promises on immigration policy
In February 2021, the Biden administration reopened a migrant facility for children that was temporarily in use during the Trump era. This move was met with backlash from many immigrant advocates, who viewed it as a major step backwards from Biden’s original promises.
Government officials justified the reopening of the facility by pointing to the sharp uptick in unaccompanied minors at the border due in part to Biden’s reversal of a Trump-era policy to turn them away. White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki defended the facility as the “most humane” option available to house migrants under 18. As such, the Biden administration views facilities like these for children as a better option than the considerably more inhumane holding centers run by Customs & Border Patrol.
According to Psaki, “these border patrol facilities are not places made for children…[t]hey are not places that we want children to be staying for an extended period of time. Our alternative is to send children back on this treacherous journey that is not, in our view, the right choice to make.”
The Biden administration, while clearly attempting to reduce the shameful treatment of underage immigrants seen under Trump, is still missing the mark. Half-measures such as the opening of this facility may serve as a band-aid for the worst excesses of the U.S. immigration system, but building cozier child prisons is far from a cure.
On the campaign trail, Biden pledged to halt all deportations for his first 100 days in office, yet since Biden took office, there had been 127,457 deportations as of March 15. Biden’s 100-day deportation moratorium has run into obstacles with a federal judge blocking the order.
As others have pointed out, the judge’s injunction prevents the administration from enforcing the 100-day moratorium, but it does not require deportations to be scheduled or continue at the same rate – the executive branch can still decide to deport people or not on a case-by-case basis.
A February 3 deportation flight to Cameroon was canceled due to allegations of abuse in ICE custody. Legally, the president has authority over the function of executive departments including ICE. So what’s stopping Biden from extending the same kind of suspension to other deportations?
Leaning towards reform but lacking transparency
Contradicting promises of transparency, the Biden administration imposed an unofficial gag order on border patrol agents back in March, limiting what information CBP agents can share with the media. The order from the administration instructs agents to deny all media requests for ride-alongs at the border and refer all information queries back to the Washington press office.
The administration’s reasoning behind this decision are unclear, but the decision communicates an avoidance of transparency at a time when the executive branch is struggling to accommodate a significant influx of migrants at the southern border.
President Biden’s approach to immigration issues in his first few months demonstrates a lackluster if well-intentioned orientation towards reform. The president appears to want to communicate a more humane and fair way to conduct immigration policy, but in many respects, his efforts come off as little more than an attempt to put a friendlier face on the same brutal system. While the Biden administration fumbles its attempts at reform, thousands of people are still being deported and detained at the border every day.
Victims of the U.S. immigration system can’t wait for the president to enact the safest and most palatable tweaks to the status quo. The Biden administration has the chance to enact real change on immigration, and it’s time to demand it.
Real change will require a total disarming of the border enforcement system’s most harmful elements. Biden could begin by decriminalizing border crossings as other 2020 democratic candidates had proposed, immediately halt all deportations, and push for full amnesty for the millions of undocumented immigrants living at risk in America. For these people, the difference between empty promises and real reform could be the difference between life and death.
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